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Antoine Fuqua
Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Mads Mikkelsen, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, Stephen Dillane
Writing Credits:
David Franzoni

The untold true story that inspired the legend.

Now, from the producer of Pearl Harbor and the director of Training Day ... experience the extended unrated director's cut of this hard-hitting action epic!

Prepare for more thrills, more adventure, and more intensity as the heroic true story behind one of history's greatest legends explodes onto the screen! It is the valiant tale of Arthur (Clive Owen) and his bond of brotherhood with Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) and the loyalty of the Knights Of The Round Table as they fight for freedom and those they love. Also starring Keira Knightley as Guinevere, this never-before-seen King Arthur is a longer, grittier, and more explicit motion picture - don't miss it!

Box Office:
$90 million.
Opening Weekend
$15.193 million on 3086 screens.
Domestic Gross
$51.877 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/21/2004

• Commentary by director Antoine Fuqua
• Extended Edition with 15 minutes of Added Footage
• Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary
• "Blood On The Land: Forging King Arthur"
• Round Table Video Commentary with Cast & Filmmakers
• Knight Vision: Pop-Up Trivia Viewing Mode
• "King Arthur" XBOX Video Game Demo
• Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's Personal Photo Gallery


Mitsubishi WS65315 65" TV; Pioneer VSXD409 Home Theater Receiver; Sony DVP NC665P 5 Disc DVD player; KLH Home Theater Speakers


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King Arthur: Director's Cut (2004)

Reviewed by Brian Ludovico (December 30, 2004)

Perhaps the most recognizable and popular name in all of British literature - yes, even more so than Harry Potter - is King Arthur. Dozens of books, stories and films have been made about Arthur, his lady love Guinevere, his faithful and noble Knights of the Round Table, the magical magician Merlin, and their exploits in the mythical kingdom Camelot. In those tales, Arthur and his knights are the paragon of nobility, fealty, piety and justice, the proverbial knights in shining armor on their mighty steeds. That sort of stuff is what the Arthurian legends are made of. That’s your father’s King Arthur. That’s not the patriarch we meet in Antoine Fuqua’s big budget King Arthur.

This story Antoine Fuqua tells in his King Arthur in supposed to be from a more historically accurate perspective. It begins in 452, with England representing the western-most boundary of the decaying Roman Empire and the whole of Europe teetering on the Dark Ages. As part of their truce with Roman army, England agreed to dedicate every male child to fifteen years of service as soldiers. If one were lucky enough to be born to a Roman parent, one would be eligible to command an attachment of said army with proper training and drive. As the child of at least one Roman parent, Arturius Castos (Clive Owen) was born to lead an army.

For fifteen years, he’s led knights like Galahad, Tristan, Gawain, Dagonet and Lancelot on many dangerous missions, and buried many dear friends. The surviving knights are days away from being free men again, having only to complete one last escort mission, keeping Bishop Germanius’ caravan into town and fending off any insurgents. The main resistance is expected be from the Woads. They are the “blue demons” that live north of Hadrian’s Wall and harass the empire, under their mysterious leader Merlin. Once the caravan arrives safely, the knights are to be given their discharges and letters of safe conduct throughout the expanse of the Roman Empire. Of course, retiring from your risky job is never an easy thing to do in the movies, and they find out that before they can be released, they have one final order from the Pope. It’s good to know that Movie Conventions #133: Deadly Mission on Eve of Retirement doesn’t just apply to cop or army movies.

Arthur and his handful of knights, in the face of certain death on their mission, not only manage to avoid the Woads and rescue their objective, the Pope’s godson, but they also defeat a small band of Saxons, invading England far north of the wall. The Saxons are a Viking people, and their invasions are legendary. They leave absolutely nothing in their wake, man, woman, child, beast or building. They will raze England to the very grass they trample. The Knights narrowly escape with their objectives, but return less one of their brethren.

True to his word, the bishop grants the men their freedom, but informs Arthur that Rome’s outer boundaries are becoming indefensible. As such, certain outposts have been designated for abandonment, and England is one of them. The Roman Army, though occasionally oppressive (the movie really hammers this point home too hard), was all that kept English peasants and their lands from the reckless ruin of the Woads. With the Romans gone, England would have a much larger problem than a band of guerilla raiders: the war drums of the very organized, very fierce and absolutely terrifying army of Saxon invaders were already within earshot. By abandoning the English post, Rome was sentencing England to pillage, rape and ultimately an undignified nationwide demise.

Arthur is disgusted by this decision. Yes, he and his men had their freedom, but the British peasants they protected would soon be dead, the freedom for those people lasting only days before being run down by the Saxons. Arthur decides, as one might guess, that it is his duty, even as a free man, to protect the people with his own life. After Guinevere (Keira Knightley, the British Natalie Portman), not a courtly lady but one of the Woads he rescued from Roman torture, leads him to meet with the Woad leader Merlin, it becomes clear that they both want the same thing: a free England. The only way they’ll fend off the Saxon ravaging it to unite their forces and pick their battle. That battle is the historic Battle at Badon Hill. Arthur discovers that it isn’t Rome he’s grown to love and honor, but it’s England. As a free man, he chooses to stand and fight.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that maxim can apply to movies as well as life in general. It certainly applies in the case of King Arthur. It intended to be an epic retelling of England’s most famous patriarch, removing all the centuries of polish, embellishment and straight fiction to strip Arthur, his knights and associates down to what they were most likely to be in reality. It intended to make him less a mythical figure and more a historical one. The film intended to connect the viewer with the legend. King Arthur, under Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua, earnestly intended to be a great movie. Unfortunately, it failed, for a lot of reasons.

One of the many reasons is that the movie wants to be so historically accurate, but is forced to rely on pure fiction to drive its own narrative, the scenes in between King Arthur’s battle sequences. In between these epic-style sequences, the movie relies on the interplay between characters to move the story, but that interaction falls mainly into two categories: blatant exposition or maudlin speechifying. I can deal with the exposition - at least it isn’t voiceover - but the constant proselytizing and postulating on the value of freedom, the equality of all men (but not women!), the value of a free land…it’s way too much. It seems like every three minutes, one character is making some heartfelt address to another about what they love about freedom, why they want freedom, what freedom is. It’s tiresome, and it makes the movie into a very, very poor imitation of Braveheart.

Ironically, it’s Braveheart that we have to thank for the faux-epic battle sequences we’ve seen in every big money, period-piece summer tent pole movie. The battles in King Arthur are no different than those in Alexander, Troy, Gladiator, and to a lesser extent The Lord of the Rings films. They’re filmed in close to accentuate the heat of battle, they’re ultra gritty and dirty, they’re at times uncomfortable to watch, and apparently the most important element, they’re gory. At least in the unrated cut, the camera doesn’t shy away from limbs being lopped off or blood spattering across the screen. In Braveheart, these battle scenes, with the hail of arrows flying down on the frightened enemy were fresh. By the time Troy, Alexander and King Arthur show up, they’re tired and predictably filmed. It goes to prove my theory that ‘epic’ is like ‘grace,’ in that it can’t be created, it just has to be there. It isn’t there in King Arthur. Compound this uninteresting battle scene problem with the problems in between the scenes, and King Arthur has serious pacing problems, among other issues.

Those problems continue with the film’s characters. Clive Owens, the British version of America’s unwatchable Nic Cage, has absolutely no charisma as the title character. I don’t know if he just doesn’t have it as an actor, or if Fuqua just couldn’t get it to come out, but whatever the problem, Arthur is one of the least interesting leaders in the last five or six years. Besides his constant blah blah about freedom, I can’t figure why anyone would charge into battle for Arthur. His famous Knights of the Round Table, subjects of vast volumes of lit and lore, are no better.

Franzoni’s script doesn’t provide any of these knights with enough of their own story, their own pathos, to make them individual characters, so how does the film do it? By making them into action figures. You’ll have trouble remembering the names of the knights, and what kind of people they are, but you’ll remember “the guy with the bird” and “the comedy relief guy” and “the guy with two swords” well enough. One can almost hear the marketing department during script readings suggesting little snippets like ‘Can’t we punch up this character by making him have a huge hammer? It’d make a great accessory pack too!’ Showing the knights pining for home and, of course, for true freedom, doesn’t count as a bonding scene. There’s no real sense of brotherhood anywhere in the film and as a result, we don’t ever invest emotionally in the knights, so we really don’t care what happens to them when they meet their predictable fates.

The only saving grace for this otherwise loss of a movie is Stellan Skarsgard as Cerdic, the Saxon leader. Skarsgard is a cold-blooded menace that oozes screen presence with every frame. I loved his even cruelty, his thirst for violence. Skarsgard is the only actor who appears to be having any fun with his character. Otherwise, King Arthur sits squarely on my “worst of 2004” list. The idea of a historically accurate look at the Arthurian legend is an intriguing one…for a Sunday night History Channel documentary special. Fuqua’s movie is a dull, lumbering 139-minute walkthrough with boring characters, one-note performances, bad pacing and absolutely nothing memorable in it. Simply put, this movie is absolute crap.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A/ Bonus B-

King Arthur appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD and has been anamorphically enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This is a big budget, major studio tent-pole type of movie, from a producer known for films with visual flair (and not necessarily their narrative expertise), so it’s not a shock to see such a fine video image, even on a junkfest movie.

The color work is uniformly exceptional, excelling particularly during high contrast daytime exteriors. Check out the explosion of colors during the Battle of Badon Hill. Between the black smoke curling into the blue sky, the hazy gray of the battlefield and hellish ignition of the trench of fire (another battle movie standard), this is a high-def demo caliber picture. The nighttime shots, like the scene where the Woads attack Arthur and his Knights as they return from the north, suffer a touch in the fine-detail area, but not enough to penalize heavily. There appears to be a heavy amount of color filtering in the film, which mutes some of the quieter moments in the movie. There are no instances of archive noise on either end. This is about as good as one can expect an analogue picture to look, it’s quite impressive.

The audio on King Arthur is an outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. As with other Bruckheimer-related productions, this one seems to have been engineered for DVD from the very start. The sound mix is meticulously plotted to really envelop the viewer in the field. One of the more impressive sequences is during the night-time encounter with the Woad warriors, as they fire roped arrows into the trees to trap Arthur and his knights. The various soundpans are not only directionally imaginative, but technically seamless. The thundering horde of Saxons beating their war drums wakes up the subwoofer with just enough echo to create the authentic sound. The grandstanding about freedom resides in the crisp, clear center channel, and the bombastic score fills the lateral forward channels with CD-quality.

While it excels in the technical arenas, King Arthur: Director’s Cut is sort of middle-of-the-pack when it comes to extras. I started with the fifteen minute Cast and Filmmaker Round Table, which featured Keira Knightley, Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffud, and Hugh Dancy representing the former, and director Antoine Fuqua, screenwriter David Franzoni and inverted pyramid headed producer Jerry Bruckheimer representing the latter. This plays a lot like Bruckheimer interviewing the participants, trying to spur them into saying something. As one might expect, there’s a lot of talk about the challenges of filming this kind of project, the kind of physical training required, and the bonds they formed during their time together.

The next interesting tidbit is the film’s alternate ending, always of great interest to me. Sadly, this ending didn’t feature the Knight with the long hair smashing a steel chair over Arthur’s head and stealing Guinevere WWE style. Instead, it shows where the film originally left off. With the available director’s commentary, Fuqua explains why this sequence was tacked onto the ending.

Knight Vision is the latest entry in one of my growing favorite DVD features, the trivia track. It’s far easier for me to watch a movie with the trivia track on than it is for me to listen to the commentary. This track highlights a lot of historical information, and since the film itself is so banal, this really helped me stay interested the second time around.

If you want to actually learn about the film itself, Antoine Fuqua has recorded a feature length director’s commentary track that is neither here nor there. I vaguely recall there being some serious controversy over the production, regarding how the story was being told, and Fuqua being quite displeased with it. Sadly, he makes no mention of it in his track. I think he was bought off by the studio, but the only basis for that assumption is my own cynicism.

Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur sounds a lot more dramatic than it is. Running at just under eighteen minutes, this featurette only slightly elevates itself above the stature of electronic promotional material. With a production this large, and a featurette this short, every single topic feels glazed over. The featurette touches on everything from casting, production design, Fuqua’s take on working with Bruckheimer, costumer design, characters and training. Keira Knightley asserts that it is a historical fact that women Woads fought alongside their men. I am not about to dispute that, but I wonder if it’s historical fact that their main protective garb was a midriff-baring piece of leather that barely covered their nipples. Moving on…

The more boring fare comes along in the photo gallery, twenty-plus stills that one can view either as a slide show or as skip-through single frames. Either way, this isn’t really a big-time bonus. It’s less exciting than the THX optimizer, which is also included. There’s apparently a playable demo of the King Arthur Xbox game, but as I have no Xbox, I couldn’t view it. No points for anything that can’t be viewed on a standard set-top DVD player, sorry.

I think what frustrated me most about this bonus material is that the film, though crappy, is a gold mine for potential bonuses. I know The History Channel or National Geographic Channel or History International has a kick-ass Arthur special lying around in the vaults of their studios. Where is such a program? Why isn’t Simon Schama, famous British historian, doing a commentary? Probably because the film is considerably less historically accurate than it purports to be. There’s just so much potential here, and Buena Vista drops the ball. They don’t even include the film’s trailer.

At the end of the day, as always, a DVD recommendation comes down to what one thinks of the film. The technical specifications here are solid, the extras a little bland, but in the end, quoth the Bard, it’s “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The movie is just plain bad, and as such, regardless of technical proficiency and its blasé bonus package, I must recommend avoiding King Arthur: Director’s Cut. Forget spending the MSRP of $29 on it - I would suggest not even renting it. It’s a boring, unwatchable mess. Check out one of the many films it tries to imitate instead.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4571 Stars Number of Votes: 70
3 3:
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